Happily Ever After for Some, Exploitation at Gunpoint for Others
Some people come to the I Do! I Do! Wedding Boutique in Flagstaff, Arizona to have their dream weddings realized as they embark on a new married life. Others come to the boutique with equal aspirations of a new, better start as migrants to America, only to have their lives threatened at gunpoint under labor extortion.
Following two years of investigations, federal authorities arrested Huong Thi “Kelly” McReynolds, 58; James Hartful McReynolds, 60; Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36; and Vincent Minh McReynolds under allegations that the McReynolds family illegally lured Vietnamese nationals to the States through sham marriages and then forced their victims to work long hours in their wedding boutique and at their home for seven days a week with little to no pay. The Reynolds’s business of ruining dreams is believed to have lasted for nearly ten years, between September 2001 and September 2008. Their victims were fearful to come forth.
“Huong Thi McReynolds and her family lured these victims to the United States on the promise of the American dream; what the victims got instead was indentured servitude,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.
He continued, “The defendants created a climate of fear inside their home and business by carrying firearms, berating the victims and threatening to physically harm them and shame their families inVietnam. They weren’t just exploited for their labor; they were robbed of their basic human dignity.”
Officials involved in the operation, aptly called “Operation Broken Dreams,”say the McReynolds family’s activities were nothing short of “modern-say slavery.”
“Through fraud and coercion, the McReynolds family engaged in modern-day slavery to support their business and live an easy life on the backs of these exploited victims,” said Matt Allen, a special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in Arizona.
Huong Thi “Kelly” will be charged with forced labor conspiracy, forced labor, unlawful conduct, violation of fair labor, and marriage fraud conspiracy; Joseph will be charged with forced labor conspiracy, forced labor and marriage fraud conspiracy; their son Vincent will charged with forced labor conspiracy and forced labor; and their son James will be charged with marriage fraud conspiracy.